Monday, September 15, 2008 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 10:  Evanston, WY, to Loveland, CO.  We have been fascinated by what we call "private exits" off the interstate highways in Wyoming. This particular exit led to a ranch, as do others. Some lead only to a Wyoming DOT facility. There are so few cities in this state, which is more than twice the size of Tennessee but has barely half a million in population.
What is the purpose of having an exit here?

Our primary mission today was to get across Wyoming and into eastern Colorado for our drive through Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow. Mostly we just logged miles on I-80. In the afternoon we decided to try the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.
Snowy Range Scenic Byway

It was a nice scenic alternative to I-80, taking us through the Snowy Range Mountains.  Originally a wagon road built in the 1870s, it was widened and smoothed in the 1920s using horse-drawn equipment.  Paved in the 1930s, the road was declared a scenic byway in 1988, only the second highway in the nation to receive that designation.

Snowy Range rock formations

Known as the "Great Skyroad" the Snowy Range byway is the second highest mountain pass in Wyoming.  Near the top, the glacially fed Mirror Lake at 9,600 ft elevation was a little too ripply to show its best reflective qualities today.
Mirror Lake

At Libby Flats we learned about "tree islands." In this transition area between subalpine and alpine meadow, summers are short and cool with a good chance of freezing temperatures occurring even in July. The alpine climate prevents tree growth by reducing the length of the growing season and by snow-blasting in winter.
Easy to identify the "flag trees"

The scattered trees--mostly spruce and fir-- are much smaller than trees at lower elevations, even though they may be the same age. At the timberline, you can see "tree islands." Blowing ice and snow damage the needles and new twigs on the windward side of the trunks, leaving branches to form only on the leeward side of the tree.

At the base of these "flag trees" is a mass of branches, which is more dense because it is protected during the winter by snow cover. During the mid-winter, only the "flags" are visible above the snow.

As the photos indicate, we had another beautiful blue-sky day. Temps ranged from the mid-50's to 70 and above. Tomorrow we'll check out the Trail Ridge Road scenic byway through Rocky Mountain National Park.